John 12:20-33 (Palm Sunday—Series C)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
April 5, 2020
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel Lesson recorded in John 12:
20Now there were some Greeks among those who were going up to worship at the feast. 21So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and asked him, saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23And Jesus answered and said to them, “The hour has come and is now here that the Son of Man should be glorified. 24Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies, it produces much fruit. 25The one who loves his life will lose it, but the one who hates his life in this world will guard it for eternal life. 26If anyone serves me, let him follow me, and where I myself am, there also my servant will be. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. 27Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour? But on account of this I have come into this hour. 28Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it and I will glorify it again.” 29Then the crowd that was standing there and heard it said it had thundered. Others said, “And angel has spoken to him.” 30Jesus answered and said, “This voice was not for me, but for you. 31Now is the judgment of this world. Now the ruler of this world is thrown out. 32And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33Now this he said showing what kind of death he was going to die.
This is a pivotal moment in the Gospel of John. The triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem to the acclamations of “Hosanna in the highest!” has taken place. The Pharisees said to one another, “Look, the world has gone after him.” And so it would seem. God-fearing Greeks who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover Feast approached Philip with a request, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
You will find those words sometimes carved on the altars and pulpits of churches as a way to remind people that what is proclaimed in God’s house should allow us to see Jesus. But what kind of Jesus do we wish to see? Many will look for a very one-sided Jesus. A lot of folks prefer a more glorious Jesus. King Herod was like that. He wanted to see Jesus because he wanted to watch Jesus do a miracle. Those gathered in the synagogue in Nazareth were like that. The miracles that Jesus had done in Capernaum they wanted to see right there in His hometown (Luke 4:23). Even the devil had wanted to see a glorious Jesus change stones into bread or jump off the highest point of the temple so that angels would swoop in and rescue Him (Luke 4:3ff.)
People are naturally attracted to success, victories, and happiness. People prefer evidence of tangible spiritual power conveyed by something really impressive and glorious. Folks are attracted to things that can promise such success and happiness, that can give them the glorious. And so that’s the kind of Jesus people hope to see. They want to see the “flashy” Jesus, the powerful Jesus, the Jesus who “will give me what I want when I want it, like genie in a bottle, because Jesus wants me to be happy and successful.”
People want a glorious Jesus who will take care of all their problems. We often want to use Jesus for our own health, happiness, and prosperity here and now. Look through the “religious” section of Barnes and Noble. There are so-called “Christian” diet books, “Management Techniques of Jesus Christ,” analyses of Jesus as the master salesman. They promise that if you follow certain steps then Jesus will make your family problems disappear, your body will do what you want it to do, your financial problems will evaporate. All our nation’s problems can be solved, the church will grow, and we will all live happily ever after if we just do all the right things.
Reality check. Even the best Christian families experience conflicts, problems, and embarrassing failures. The most devout Christian might go bankrupt, or have a mental breakdown, or contract a heartbreaking disease and not be healed. And when the ideal Christian life proves impossible to attain, what of the Jesus you sought after? Did He let you down? Maybe you need to try harder, buy more books, present a more positive front to the world? But that just leads to dishonesty and phoniness. Life in Christ is not all glory and happiness and success. Life in Christ is not all feel good, emotional highs that take us from one mountain-peak experience to another. Do you want to see Jesus? Do you truly want to see Jesus as He reveals Himself to you in the Bible? To truly see and to know Jesus you must go to the cross.
And the cross isn’t happy or glorious because the cross involves sin, and death, and punishment. The cross means you and I have to come face to face with harsh reality—our death, the punishment we deserve because we are by nature sinful and unclean, enemies of God who think nothing of disobeying Him when it suits our wants and needs in our search for pleasure and happiness.
Along with the Greeks, we wish to see Jesus. But before we or the Greeks get to see Jesus, He’s already talking about death, which strangely enough He calls the hour for Him to be glorified. But it’s not the kind of glorification we had in mind. It involves death, Jesus’ own death, like a seed, so that He should die and produce something beyond what we could have imagined. If we love the glory and the happiness and the prestige of life in this world, our life will be destroyed in the world to come because of our sins. But when we come to see our sins for what they truly are and are brought by the Spirit to true sorrow and repentance over our sins, God out of His mercy and grace chooses to give us life in the world to come because Jesus came to His hour on our behalf, lifted up from the earth on a cross.
For Jesus, the hour to be glorified involved arrest, binding, striking on the face, scourging, mocking, crucifixion, and death. The cross was necessary for us and for our salvation. Necessary for our rescue from sin, death, and everlasting condemnation. As if it were a spiritual magnet, the saving work of Jesus upon the cross draws all sinners to Him—Jews and Greeks, all people. The power to save humanity from sin, death, and hell lies solely in Jesus, the Crucified One. When a magnet and metal object are attached to each other, the power for that attachment resides exclusively in the magnet. Likewise, the power to draw poor miserable sinners to the salvation and forgiveness of God is the exclusively the saving work of Jesus on cross.
The suffering and death of Jesus Christ on the cross purchased and won for us forgiveness of all our sins. He shed His perfect blood so that we are forgiven for the self-glory we have sought and worked for at the expense of loving God with our whole selves and our neighbors as ourselves. In the death of Jesus, Satan and the world also stand condemned. They are no longer able to accuse us of our sins before our Father in heaven because all our sins are forgiven through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.
Because of Jesus’ death on the cross for us, God gifts to us real glory and happiness and success that is not bound up in the ever-changing stuff of this life, but in the certainty of eternal life with our Triune God forever in a new creation. As Jesus promises in our Gospel, “Where I myself am, there my servant will be also.” Through Jesus’ suffering and death, we have already passed through death and hell with Him (John 5:24). We have been united with Him by baptism into His death and into His resurrection (Rom. 6:5). At the Last Day, you and I will be given the glory of Jesus’ resurrection in our own resurrected and glorified bodies so that we will be like Him! (Phil. 3:21)
So, you want to see Jesus? Look at the cross. “For there hangs the Son of God with outstretched arms, in order to testify that He rejects no one but wants gladly to accept everyone and . . . draw all unto Himself. His head is lifted to heaven and shows us the way to eternal life. His feet are hanging below and toward the earth, for He is treading on the head of the old serpent, the devil, . . . taking away all the devil’s power. For because He, the dear Lord Christ, is hanging there and is paying and rendering satisfaction for our sin with His death, being made a curse for us, the devil, who, because of sin, has obtained power over us, loses his might” (Luther).
Look at Jesus, who hung on the cross bearing your sin, suffering your hell, dying your death. That’s the Jesus who is Savior. That’s the Jesus whose glory it is to suffer and die and rise again for you so that you would have forgiveness and abundant life with God forever. He’s not a genie in a bottle promising you all your hopes and dreams in this life. He’s not an entertainer to do miracles for show. He’s the Suffering Servant of God who loved you so much that He wanted you to have everlasting life—real happiness, real glory, real success—just as your heavenly Father planned from all eternity, even though it meant suffering death and hell on a cross. Amen.